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How to Succeed in Business

When we think about being successful at work, we all know that it takes a lot of hard work. But even with that work, success is elusive. That’s because we don’t have a good sense of what it means to be truly great at a job, even for seemingly obvious jobs, like being a doctor. I provide a simple framework on how you can be the best at any job.

“What would you do if I punched you in the face right now?”

That’s the question that Mark Craney, former Operating Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says is the best sales interview question he’s ever received.

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When Experiences Are Better than Buying Things

The first time I experienced “Insane Mode” in a Tesla was in Knoxville Tennessee. We were outside cousin Greg’s house next to a beautiful lake. Blake was in the back seat while we rolled to an empty straight-away in front of his house. Then Greg said, “Do you want to see something cool? Make sure your seatbelts are buckled.” He brought the car to a stop and pressed a few buttons. “Ready?” he said. Then he stepped on the accelerator and sent us from zero to sixty in less than three seconds. We were immediately pinned back in our seats as the sides of our eyes and mouth reached for the backrest. After we got out, I thought, “I would love to buy this car.”(1)Here are some NSFW reactions of people with their first time with Insane mode.

But even if I bought the car, I wouldn’t be able to replicate that experience. The first time trying Insane Mode (or its newer cousins Ludacris Mode and Plaid Mode) can’t be duplicated. Companies try to convince you that you can do it—just purchase their products! This happens with kids’ toys all the time. A few years ago, I bought the Little Bits R2-D2. This is a nifty little kit for kids where kids build a remote-controlled R2-D2 that we built with some friends. We enjoyed building it that first time, but the box said, “Create. Play. Invent.” But after we followed the instructions and played with it, we never did create or invent, and R2-D2 went to hibernate in the closet.(2)It occurred to me that it would be better to rent toys like this rather than to buy them.

Each time you use something, you get a new experience. The first experience is the most powerful, then each additional experience is less so. Eventually, you just take it for granted and don’t appreciate it anymore. This is why behavioral economists(3)Behavioral economists study the psychological side of economics. say that experiences are more valuable than things. When you purchase that experience, you are spending all of your money on that first experience. The joy from these later experiences are a lot less valuable.(4)In his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard tells a story about how a truly novel experience can become commonplace. Most interesting is that transition, at the second experience.

GUILDENSTERN: A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until – “My God,” says the second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are, the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

People become accustomed to almost everything, even something as wonderful as living in paradise. The Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann was offered a position at a California University after having spent years in Michigan. He thought that clearly, people were happier in California with all the great weather and good vibes. If he would be happier in California, that might tip the scales on whether to take the position. So he did a large study to figure out the difference between people’s happiness in Michigan and California. He learned that when people move to California they see an immediate uptick in their happiness. But over time, that fades and the people settle into the same level of happiness they had before the move. Kahnemann pointed out that it’s very hard to get answers to questions on happiness. When you ask people, “How happy does living in California make you?” you invariably get the answer to the question “How happy does living in California make you when you are thinking about the fact that you live in California?” This is an important distinction because rarely are people thinking about the weather and good vibes of California on an everyday basis.

When I was at Amazon, I wanted to see how experiences fade over time. The company had these beautifully designed badges you’d use to get into buildings. The designers spent a huge amount of time and money to get them perfectly right. They had this silky matte sheen that reflected the light perfectly. When I got the badge, it was immediately placed in a plastic sheath, providing it with a more gauche glossy protection.

Unable to decide whether to leave it exposed and attractive or protected and shiny, I decided to do an experiment. By default, I’d leave it in the plastic sheath for the night. When I got to work, I took it out of its plastic covering so I could appreciate it. At night I’d put it back. So each morning I’d have to take the action to unprotect the badge and make it prettier. For the first few months, I took it out and really admired the craftsmanship of the badge. After three months I realized that I didn’t care about the design anymore and left it in the protective case. The experience of appreciating the badge had worn off.

Experiences are also great because they create powerful shared moments.(5)The group Improv Everywhere creates amazing experiences between people. One of my favorite experiences in college didn’t cost any money—well, not any additional money. $2 bills have always been pretty rare. Back when people used to pay for everything with cash, I’d get one every few years. My grandfather Barney Liebman used to save all of his $2 bills in his desk drawer. But something strange happened in Harvard Square in 1995. I was at the Au Bon Pain, standing behind a young African American grad student waiting to pay. He bought a pastry and a coffee. He paid for his $8 purchase with one $5 bill and two $2 bills. Two $2 bills! One would have been unusual. Maybe he didn’t care about his $2 bill. But two?! How could this be?! I had to find out. After a thorough investigation, I learned that you can ask for $2 bills at the bank, just like any other money. So I got a bunch and started buying things with them. It would always put a smile on the cashier’s face, and it was free!(6)The one problem was that banks would only have a few $2 bills at any time. If you’re really serious about two-dollar bills, you can have your bank order you a stack from the Federal Reserve. It’s less relevant these days as no one pays with cash anymore.

Even though I know that experiences are more important than physical items, it still seems like physical items have more weight (no pun intended). There’s still the temptation to buy something “real” even when it’s less useful. Before the pandemic, Blake asked for virtual Fortnite presents for his birthday. These were outfits for his virtual characters.

Abigail said, “That’s such a waste. It’s just something that will live on his computer. He’ll use it once or twice and then forget about it.”

I replied, “Yes. It’s awesome. He gets a gift he really wants for his birthday and has a wonderful experience. And when he gets sick of it, we never have to throw it out!”

Note: For people that want a good compromise between renting and purchasing movies, Amazon’s Prime Video has an interesting solution. Each time you rent a movie, you are credited for the purchase of that movie. You can rent the movie as many times as you want but you are capped at the total cost of buying the movie.

Note: There’s a lot more about this in Chapter 5 of Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Here are some NSFW reactions of people with their first time with Insane mode.
2 It occurred to me that it would be better to rent toys like this rather than to buy them.
3 Behavioral economists study the psychological side of economics.
4 In his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard tells a story about how a truly novel experience can become commonplace. Most interesting is that transition, at the second experience.

GUILDENSTERN: A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until – “My God,” says the second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are, the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.”

5 The group Improv Everywhere creates amazing experiences between people.
6 The one problem was that banks would only have a few $2 bills at any time. If you’re really serious about two-dollar bills, you can have your bank order you a stack from the Federal Reserve. It’s less relevant these days as no one pays with cash anymore.
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Happy 2022!

I wanted to give you all a meaningful holiday gift. This is difficult during normal times, and even more difficult during the pandemic.

I’ve always admired people who can give holiday gifts that are truly unique. Designers do it best. Last year, I wrote about Thomas Heatherwick’s Christmas gifts. From 1994 to 2010, Heatherwick, creator of New York’s Vessel, created original, unique, and surprising Christmas cards. There was even a museum exhibit of these cards.

This year I wanted to start with a holiday gift from Improv Everywhere. During this time of year, they surprise people with wonderful holiday experiences like Giant Boombox, The Light Switch, and Light Up Someone’s Holiday. Since 2001, Improv Everywhere has been turning New York City into a communal space for positive pranks. You can find a quick summary of Improv Everywhere from CBS This Morning.

But alas, I’m not a designer or a YouTube creator. I’m a writer. So this is my holiday gift to you.

MY WRITING

In 2020, I did a whole lot of writing. This year I have a more demanding job which has limited my quantity of blog posts. Also, my big writing project is my book which I’ve excerpted at the end of this email.

If you’d like to poke around through my thoughts, visit schlaff.com for blog posts or check out my library for other random thoughts. Here are some of my favorite recent writing:

  • Why We Love Camp Ramah. My essay on Camp Ramah, the Jewish Summer Camp we send the kids to each year. It’s about how we are trying to raise our kids with positive values and how we can use religion to help guide our family in that direction.
  • Zaid’s Unopened Hannukah Present. I letter to my grandfather and about how I’ll always remember him, even if I couldn’t do everything that I wanted with him.
  • Amelia Earharts’ 77-Year-Long Journey Around the World (video). My story about 2 Amelia Earharts—the one who started the journey around the world and the one who finished it.

ON HAPPINESS AND MEANING

This has been a hard year. It was different from last year. In a word, 2020 sucked. Plain and simple.

 

 

 

When 2020 was over, we expected things to get back to normal. Instead, 2021 was a year of waiting, partially frozen in time. It felt like we were in a chrysalis, that cocoon between being a caterpillar and being a butterfly. The chrysalis is a complete breakdown of the caterpillar into its foundational amino acids and reconstituting itself as a butterfly. That’s what this year was like—a complete breakdown of everything before and waiting to see what will happen when we emerge. While inside the cocoon I learned to appreciate the little things in life, like taking daily pictures for my virtual background while I worked from home.

In this section, I like to highlight the goodness of the world. This year I’ll start with Dave Pell’s piece I read more news than anyone. Trust me, people are better than we’re led to think. Dave writes the newsletter NextDraft, my favorite source of daily news.

I’ve also got a lot of happiness and inspiration links on my website. I’ve also written some pieces you might find inspiring in these difficult times. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Thank You for Being a Friend. Friendship is about being there for other people. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend stands by you when it’s inconvenient.
  • The Best Vacation Ever. Thank God We Survived. This year reminds me of a vacation we took a few years ago. Everything was planned impeccably only to completely fall apart. It was an awesome trip in spite of (or maybe because of) all of these challenges.

And I’ve also got some of my favorite inspirations here.

A KIDS GUIDE TO NEW MEDIA

My kids live in the future. Two years ago, Blake taught me about Fortnight and the Metaverse, well before Mark Zuckerberg renamed his company. This year I learned how YouTube is taking over the media landscape. If you don’t have tweenage boys, you may not know that being a YouTuber is the #1 dream profession, significantly ahead of old favorites like movie star or rock idol. Here’s a quick summary:

A HISTORY OF 2021 IN HUMOROUS VIDEOS

During COVID-19, everyone seemed to be having the same experiences at the same time. So our family had the same experiences as many people on YouTube. Our favorite online family is the Holderness Family. Here are our favorite videos that take us through 2021:

COVID PODCAST RETROSPECTIVE

In the early part of the year, I found some fantastic podcasts about COVID-19.

  • This American Life Episode 727 had an interview with 4 of the scientists that did the basic research on the COVID-19 vaccine. All the research on the vaccine was done years ago, on MERS. Without that huge jump start, we would still be waiting for a vaccine.
  • The Great Vaccinator is about the most important scientist you’ve never heard of. Maurice Hilleman created the Mumps vaccine in 4 years and 8 of the 14 standard childhood vaccines.
  • Every Day is Ignaz Semmelweis Day is an homage to the discoverer of germs and the first proponent of hand washing. The medical community was not a fan of Semmelweis, annoyed by his guidance on hygiene. But why were they so against hand washing but so in favor of anesthesia which was discovered at the same time? Atul Gawande explains that you can see anesthesia working right away but don’t physically see the results of hygiene.
  • The Thing I’m Getting Over is a This American Life did a podcast on how recovering feels. spoiler alert: it’s not a fun process.

SOME COOL LIFE HACKS

  • How to Transform Your Notebook. I’ve been looking at productivity tools for years. Recently I picked up The Bullet Journal. This is a ridiculously simple way of managing your notes and to-do list all in one place. I’m really enjoying the custom notebook and the companion app.
  • Under the Covers of Excel. Did you ever wonder how Excel works? Enter Joel Spolsky, the founder of Trello and Stack Overflow, who worked on Excel in the 1990s. I learned a lot from his entertaining talk, You Suck at Excel. My favorite part was how R1C1 notation explains how Excel’s “magic” of dragging cells works.
  • Fun with Alexa. Here are two lists of Alexa Easter Eggs. My favorites are “Alexa, open the pod bay doors,” “What’s the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” and “Up up down down left right left right B A start.”
  • “Fresh” Krispy Kreme Donuts at Home. There’s nothing better than a fresh-from-the-oven Krispy Kreme donut. They just don’t taste the same they’re not fresh. But I’ve learned that popping a cold one in the oven for 10 seconds brings back all that fresh-baked goodness.

BOTTOM OF THIS SECTION: FUN FACTS


MY BOOK

Thanks for sticking with me for long! For you intrepid readers, I have a special treat for you. This is the beginning of my leadership book based on Amazon’s culture, called Thinking Amazonian (Day 1). It’s what I learned from the company, and how other people can use Amazon’s best practices in their own lives. It’s in the early stages and I’m still looking for an editor to clean it up and an agent to help me sell it. If you have any thoughts, please email me. Here’s the beginning:

 

I had the privilege of working for one of the world’s biggest celebrities and now I’m writing a book about it. OK, that’s not exactly true but it’s close. I worked at Amazon as their head of cloud banking and I’m writing a book about how Amazon gave me a new framework for thinking about the world.

I was the Head of Banking for Amazon Web Services (AWS), responsible for AWS’s strategic initiatives for banks and lenders across the world. I worked with these organizations to transform their existing businesses and bring new, innovative solutions to market with AWS.

There are lots of great books and videos about Amazon, but this one is about being Amazonian. That’s what Amazon employees call themselves. It’s more than a book about Amazon. It’s about how to take the core of Amazon’s culture (called Leadership Principles) and apply them to your work and your life. While they often look like boring management principles, they offer insights into Amazon’s success. They also offer an avenue for deeper personal growth. For example, one of Amazon’s Leadership Principles is “Dive Deep.” The principle exemplifies Amazon’s focus on operational excellence, but it also highlights how you can appreciate the beauty of the everyday world.

Understanding Amazonian thinking is key to being successful with technology. I’ve seen companies try to be like Amazon and fail. They spend millions of dollars on an innovation center and gloat about how they’ve implemented design thinking. When companies try to be more like Silicon Valley, they wear hoodies and jeans to work without knowing why. They think that the casual dress code of Silicon Valley started with the hippie counterculture of Steve Jobs. But it has a much deeper and important meaning. Silicon Valley’s casual dress code started with the godfather of Silicon Valley, Robert Noyce.

Robert Noyce was born in Burlington Iowa into a deep Midwestern Congregationalist ethic. When he started Intel, the first modern tech company, he brought his Midwestern roots to the company. He believed that no one was better than anyone else. He had a casual dress code because he believed that the best ideas should win, not the ideas from the people with the best suits and the biggest offices. As other tech companies emerged in Silicon Valley, they imported their culture from Intel. Most companies don’t know this history and adopt the dress code without adopting this focus on the meritocracy of ideas, missing the point and most of the value.

Most books about Amazon and other tech companies treat the reader as a tourist visiting a new and mystical land. It’s kind of like watching the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The UK paper, The Register, even refers to Google as “The Chocolate Factory” because it’s as weird and wonderous as Willy Wonka’s candy factory. There are wonderful and amazing things about Amazon that I’ll share in the book, I want you to get more than that. What if you could get the mind of Agustus Gloop, the glutton who fell into Mr. Wonka’s chocolate river, and find out how the experience changed him. That’s the feeling I want to give you in this book. I want to take you inside Jeff’s peculiar company.

Throughout the book, I refer to Jeff Bezos as Jeff, not because I know him personally but because all Amazonians call him that. At each all-hands meeting, Jeff highlights a few of his favorite things posted on Amazon’s internal website. Once he pulled up a humorous quote from another Amazonian named Jeff that said something like:

I am the founder of the Amazon support group “Jeffs who are not Jeff.” We come together to support the “other Jeffs” at Amazon. We meet every Thursday at 8 PM between the groups “Fire Phone Owners Anonymous” and “Amazonians named Alexa.”

So what does it mean to be Amazonian? From the outside, Amazon looks like a holding company—a collection of businesses from a bookseller to a grocery store to a television production company. There’s even my part of the business, Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud provider. But all of these pieces are held together by one thing—Amazon’s culture.

Amazon’s culture is centered around 16 Leadership Principles. These Leadership Principles are the core of Amazon’s interviews, promotions, and making everyday decisions. In this book, I’m going to take you through the 16 principles and show you how I’ve applied them and how you can use them in your personal and business life.

Let’s start with the first principle: Customer Obsession. This means providing the best possible experience for each customer. When Amazon was just selling books, it meant providing the best book-buying experience in the world, but things have gotten more complicated over time.

Customer Obsession applies to the whole firm, even unlikely areas like recruiting. Most companies treat their interviewees as vendors selling their services. They want to hire the best people and ignore those that they don’t need. But Amazon knows that virtually everyone that interviews is a customer, so it strives to give each interviewee a great experience. It doesn’t want to lose that retail customer and their friends because of a bad interview experience.

What does Customer Obsession mean for this book? Well, you, as my reader, are my customer. I want to give you an amazing experience reading this book. Having an exceptional experience is about looking beyond the ordinary and creating something new. Here’s an example of an exceptional experience.

In June of  2019, I went on my first visit to Japan when I spoke at the AWS Summit in Tokyo. This is a massive conference where over 10,000 Japanese coders streamed into the Makuhari Messe Conference Center in suburban Tokyo. I tried to find my way in the flood of attendees, where everything looked familiar but slightly off. Our Japanese hosts had t-shirts that said, “ASK ME! I’m with the AWS Summit!” but when I needed directions, he responded to me with all the English he knew, saying, “AWS. Yes. Yes. AWS.”

I was excited to experience everything Japanese. Familiar things like cheesecake took on a magical new meaning, both fluffier and sweeter than the American or Italian versions. 7-11 was a place to get high-quality food like beef teriyaki jerky or dried squid. While my hotel room had one tiny bed, the hotel also had five bathhouses. These bathhouses were traditional in Japanese hotels, and I had to try them. The signs said that there were absolutely no visible tattoos or bathing suits allowed. There were various different stations filled with cold water, like one where you were massaged by rollers and another where sitting one tub caused water to cascade into others. It was a novel and exciting theme park for nude cold plunges. At the same time, I was terrified that one of my business colleagues would come in and sit next to me. Luckily the bath was empty the whole time I was there. I was in a world of sensory overload where I constantly wanted more. If the 7-11 was this good, the best thing in Tokyo must be mind-blowing. When I asked my host, he told me the best thing in Tokyo is the Imperial Palace.

The Imperial Palace is the main residence of the Emporer of Japan. After crossing the moat that protected the palace from ancient invaders, I entered a history far older and more powerful than I imagined. I walked through a grassy lawn area where the Emperor housed his concubines and visited the base of the giant Tenshu tower that burned down in 1657. The rulers of Toyko were so powerful that they never felt the need to rebuild it.

But walking through The Palace, something was missing. I felt this when I was walking through the palace’s East Gardens. While the gardens were beautiful, they weren’t that different from the gardens of Central Park a few blocks from my apartment. While it sounds silly and pretentious, I wanted more from these trees and plants.

But how could I have a better experience at the East Gardens? The Emperor had done his part. In 1968, the Emperor opened the gardens to the public because he wanted to share this treasure with the people. People like me could walk around except on Mondays and Fridays when it was closed for the Emporer and the Imperial Family to stroll around.

I wondered what the Emporer did on those days in the garden. I bet I could do these things too. I could sit and meditate next to the Emporer’s iris garden, one of the most beautiful in the world. The irises were transplanted from the iris garden of Meiji Jingu, a shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, the great-great-grandfather of the current Emperor.

 

 

 

Approaching the Emperor’s Iris Garden

In the Emperor’s Iris Garden


As I sat there for an hour my perspective totally changed. Instead of demanding more and better experiences from everything, I was able to appreciate the best things in life. I felt a sublime calmness and happiness come over me. Strange and wonderful things started to happen as I let things unfold, like when a couple sat next to me with a Yankees cap. I learned that they were from Chile and were in Japan visiting a friend they met through an organization of international friendship created by Jimmy Carter. The Yankees cap came via one of their friends who lived a mile north of me, halfway around the world in New York.


When I left the garden, I felt like an Emperor. It wasn’t about the quantity of experience but its quality. I was able to take this experience and feeling with me when I went home. In this book, I want to give you that kind of experience, treating you like the special customer that you are.

You can also read more about the book and why it’s called Thinking Amazonian (Day 1) or check out some sample chapters:

Introductory Chapters

From Amazon’s Leadership Principles:

BYE FOR NOW

As I sign off from this email, I wanted to leave you with one of my cards. I wrote about the story behind these cards, but the message stands by itself. Thanks for being my friend. You’re Awesome. Let’s Talk.

My Card

Rob

P.S. If you’d like to read more of my writing check out schlaff.com. If you want to get more articles by email you can subscribe here. If you want to unsubscribe from this annual letter you can do it here.

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Everything as a Service

These days, all of these products are being sold as services. With Amazon Web Services we’re buying IT infrastructure and computing as a service. With Apple Music, we’re no longer buying music but streaming it over the internet for a monthly fee. We don’t even store our own pictures anymore, they stored in the cloud rather than on our own computers. With “Subscribe and Save” from Amazon, we can even get toilet paper as a service.

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Why We Love Camp Ramah

You walk into the field and see a group of children huddled around a fire pit. They’re having fun, performing strange rituals, singing odd songs, and building a community. What do you call this? Summer camp. If the songs are in Hebrew and the rituals are thousands of years old, then you’d call it Camp Ramah.

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Kids Do the Most Incredible Things

Summary: Kids do incredible things. Instead of trying to teach them as little adults, give them some tools and flexibility and see what they create. They may not do what you expect, but it’s fascinating (and funny) to see how they think.

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When My Career Caught the Mail Truck

Intro: One of my friends told me that at 33, married with a baby, she’s doing some soul searching. She thought at some point that she’d be set and have figured out her career, but she’s realized that things never settle and it’s all journey. This makes her a little sad and confused. Here’s my response:

Willy Wonka: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.”

Charlie Bucket: “What happened?”

Willy Wonka: “He lived happily ever after.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I used to think that there was a way to win the game of life. I thought there was a general scheme to the world and if I just worked hard enough, things would work out awesomely. This worked for a while. If I worked hard at school, I would get into a great college. If I worked hard in college I would get a great job. I thought this is the way that life worked too.

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Watching Clubhouse Get Built in Real-Time

There’s something special about being an early adopter. There are obviously painful things like capacity limits and features that don’t work quite right. But the wonderful thing, if it’s done right, is that the community and the founders work together to build something magical.

That’s the feeling on Clubhouse now. I’ve been playing around with the platform for a week. I’ve been in these unfiltered rooms with Joe Rogan, Marc Andresson, and Guy Raz. The rooms are currently capped at 8,000 users because of platform constraints. Back when I started on the platform last week is was 5,000 users. Then 7,000 users. Then, on Friday night when I joined the Joe Rogan Room (which maxed out at 7,000 users on Joe’s first day), and Paul Davison, one of the founders of Clubhouse, said, “Oh, during this call it looks like we’ve raised the limit to 8,000 users.”

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Zaid’s Unopened Hannukah Present

It was December 19, 2012. I’m horrible with dates but I remember this one. My grandparents, Bubbie and Zaid,(1)In Yiddish Bubbie means grandmother and Zaid means grandfather. had come over. They came over about once a week. We had these good Jewish grandparent/grandkid fights around how much food they should bring. They wanted to bring 2 chickens a week, some pastrami, some latkas, a quart of matzo ball soup, and then maybe something for us to eat that night when they came over. We had to explain that the fridge was already full from last week’s delivery so maybe they could just bring one chicken that week.

I was excited to give Zaid his Hanukah present. I’d gotten him a limited edition “subscription box” box from a company called Quarterly. We were getting a box curated by John Maeda. Maeda is my favorite digital artist/designer who has a wonderful way of looking at the world. When he was the President of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) he said, “America is a weird country. It’s like I was a waitress somewhere, and now I’m in a movie—a futuristic astronaut cast in a new kind of Wild West picture. [At RISD] I get to make, like, a Space Western.”(2)Maeda’s box was part of a RISD initiative called STEAM. STEAM = STEM + Arts & Humanities.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 In Yiddish Bubbie means grandmother and Zaid means grandfather.
2 Maeda’s box was part of a RISD initiative called STEAM. STEAM = STEM + Arts & Humanities.
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Dolly and Me: Dolly Parton’s America Podcast

Abigail and I rarely listen to the same podcasts or read the same books. We watch TV together or movies together but that’s more about sharing the experience—especially in the pandemic. But I like play snooty public radio podcasts and Abigail really likes reading about history and politics.(1)This is my favorite quote ever from This American Life. Ira Glass is giggling that The O.C. calls his program “that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.” Abigail, coming from East Tennessee, kept trying to get me to listen to Dolly Parton’s America. She told me it’s this amazing podcast about Dollywood and Tenessee, where she grew up.

Then I was looking at the recent Peabody Awards (again, big media nerd). Dolly Parton’s America won a Peabody for excellence in broadcasting. Also it was produced by Jad Abumrad, of Radiolab, one of the best radio producers in the world. Between Abigail and Jad, I had to listen to it and I’m so glad I did.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 This is my favorite quote ever from This American Life. Ira Glass is giggling that The O.C. calls his program “that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.”